Friday, September 24, 2004

If you don't already know how the forces of bigotry and intolerance can be defeated with show tunes, you must learn now.

I wish Jewish readers who will be observing Yom Kippur an easy fast.

Tokyo Rose. Lord Haw-haw. Michael Moore. Peas in a pod, according to the proprietor of the Junkyard Blog. Seeing a story in the Christian Science Monitor on, among other things, the popularity of Fahrenheit 9/11 among grunts in Iraq, he posts:

Thank you, Democrats! Thank you, Terry MacAuliffe! Thank you to all of you who embraced enemy propagandist Michael Moore! You're doing a nice job of denting our military's morale right on the front lines ...

And it's bad. Consider this guy, quoted in the story itself:

"We shouldn't be here," said one Marine infantryman bluntly. "There was no reason for invading this country in the first place. We just came here and [angered people] and killed a lot of innocent people," said the marine, who has seen regular combat in Ramadi. "I don't enjoy killing women and children, it's not my thing."

This is obviously all the fault of Michael Moore. Obviously, this guy would be thrilled to be killing innocent women and children if it wasn't for that damn movie. It must be so. If not, the sentiments of the Junkyard Blog would be, well... junk.

Ah yes, but he also said that "there was no reason for invading" Iraq. In fact Dubya offered two good reasons. One was that Saddam wouldn't let inspectors into the country to find the WMD he had hidden -- except that he had let them in, and they were finding nothing. The other is that he was harboring terrorists -- except that the only active terrorist in Iraq at the time, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, was in the northern "no-fly zone" that Saddam did not control, and the American military had put together a plan to take him out which Dubya's NSC refused to approve because eliminating Zarqawi could have "undercut its case for war against Saddam." This is the same Zarqawi who is still active in Iraq, and has since acquired the bad habit of beheading Western hostages. Damn that Michael Moore.

I'm ragging a lot on right-wing bloggers these days, but when they take a break from their fantasy world where the war in Iraq is a forgivable muddle and getting better anyway (ummm... didn't Dubya say it was over a year ago? I seem to recall some big to-do with an aircraft carrier), they can find worthwhile things to do. So, if you happen to have some spare Delta frequent flyer miles burning a hole in your account, Dean Esmay has a good use for them.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

That masterpiece of edible petrochemistry, the Twinkie, may not be around forever. Its maker is in Chapter 11, and may go under. And contrary to long held belief, the shelf life of the last fresh twinkie would expire, according to Snopes, a scant twenty-five days after that.

via BoingBoing

Since right-wing blogs are still interested in faked documents about Dubya's National Guard service, I thought they might like another one which shows strong signs of tampering:

Another White House-released document shows a total of 56 points Bush apparently earned during this 12-month period, but it’s awarded in one lump sum rather than credited for each training period. But this document also contains an error, listing Bush’s status as “PLT On-Fly” — meaning he was on flight status — when he had not been for a year. This, said retired Army Lt. Col. Gerald A. Lechliter, who has done an in-depth analysis of Bush’s pay records (, makes the form’s authenticity suspect.

via David Neiwert, who also quotes Lechliter on a whole bunch of other problems with the document...

Congress wants tax cuts now. And both parties agree!

Putting aside efforts to control the federal deficit before the elections, Republican and Democratic leaders agreed Wednesday to extend $145 billion worth of tax cuts sought by President Bush without trying to pay for them.

With such universal agreement in Washington, who could question the wisdom of the policy? Well, maybe Brad DeLong, who keeps clinging to the old-fashioned notion that tax cuts resulting in a sustained, structural deficit aren't so much tax cuts as a transfer of the tax burden to children who are now too young to vote on it. Which is, apparently, part of the problem:

"I wish we could pay for them, but this is a political problem and we have people up for re-election,'' said Representative Charles B. Rangel of New York, the senior Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee.

Though the sense of comity between Republicans and Democrats apparently does have its limits:

House Republican conferees ... rejected a proposed amendment by Senator Blanche Lincoln, Democrat of Arkansas, that would expand the number of poor families eligible for a refundable child tax credit. That measure would have cost $7 billion over 10 years.

According to studies by Democrats on the Joint Economic Committee, four million low-income families will have reduced benefits from the child tax credit if the law is unchanged.

"These are working people we are trying to help," Senator Lincoln said, adding, "The higher-income taxpayers get enormous benefits from the tax code."

Mind you, DeLong's views aren't completely out of style:

Even as they pushed for the cuts that will add to the federal budget deficit, House Republican lawmakers said Wednesday that they hoped to have a vote soon on a constitutional amendment that would require the government to balance the budget by 2010, except if the country is at war.

Which is to say, they're willing to do everything they can to balance the budget, except passing a budget right now which is balanced. (Which would be another difference from the Democrats; we actually did have a balanced budget the last time one of them had a veto).

Good thing they've got that "country at war" exemption there; with the War on Terror projected to last forever, this amendment can stand as a dead letter a good long time.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Citizens of America, rejoice! Your government is keeping you safe from Yusuf Islam!

Critics may cavil. At home, port security may be utterly neglected. Abroad, like the swallows returning to Capistrano, the Taliban may be returning to Afghanistan. But some threats are waning, and foremost among these is the threat posed to Americans by Yusuf Islam!

That's right! When American officials discovered that a plane from Britain was carrying Yusuf Islam, the plane was diverted, and Islam -- the singer formerly known as Cat Stevens -- was seized and detained, as his name was on the terrorist watch list! His mellow pop stylings will torment you no longer! Rejoice!

You'll be relieved to know that the controversy over Dubya's guard service is finally over. That's right -- the Air Force Times may still be reporting that Dubya's promising start as a pilot faded into mystery, but last week, Dean Esmay said here that "ABC News aired a special report that completely refuted all the negative claims about Bush's National Guard service."

Kerry supporters might quibble that the interviewee -- Walter Staudt, the politically connected retired Texas Guard officer that inducted Bush into the guard -- can't speak with any authority about Dubya's unexplained absences when he was supposed to be attending drills in Alabama and Massachusetts. But there's no shortage of wingers, like those in Esmay's comments to explain that even though Bush signed a document (which is in the package released months ago by the White House) promising to find a Massachusetts Guard unit, and then never did, that's OK -- because the war was over, and actually showing up for military service is somehow optional, at least for privileged Senators' grandsons from Connecticut, unless there's a war actually on. So even if something truly nuclear turned up later -- even if, say, all the document experts who critiqued Bill Burkett's faked memos somehow showed up in chorus saying that the records released by the White House were also faked to cover a dishonorable discharge -- none of that would be likely to make much of an impression on Esmay, who not only in this, but in many other things has shown himself nearly impervious to facts that don't fit his politics.

And that, in turn, makes it awfully hard to argue with these guys. The post below was deliberately constructed as an attempt to construct an argument that might break through -- not so much by countering the claims of Dubya's supporters with facts (there's frankly too much of that up top, given the audience), as by countering his emotional appeal. (And also avoiding the Guard issue, which is tactically a loser right now thanks to Dan Rather's screwups, whatever the facts). This, though, is obviously not the right place to put any such thing. And I'm personally a bit reluctant to start doling out pieces of it in comment sections to related posts on right-wing blogs; it would feel too much like being a left-wing troll. It's turnabout -- but is it fair play?

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Once in a while you get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right. So goes the song, at any rate. I learned a bit about politics watching The Apprentice.

This show, if you're not familiar with it, is Donald Trump's "fifteen week job interview", on which Trump assembles a bunch of potential candidates for an executive position, and fires one each week. The "boardroom sessions" where people get bounced are brutally edited, even in the extended replays they're showing on Saturdays, but you get at least a little flavor for how Trump makes his decisions. And the most striking feature to me is that candidates who voluntarily choose to put themselves at a disadvantage are almost invariably bounced. Quickly. As in last week's show, when a candidate who had done an excellent job gave up an exemption from that week's pink slip, out of fairness to his the other team members -- and got fired, in effect, for putting himself at risk, with nothing to gain for it. If you don't stand up for yourself, how are you going to stand up for anything else? Anyone who would do something like that is a wimp. Trump doesn't hire wimps.

The Republicans seem to think that a lot of voters think like that. So they put Dubya in staged situations where he gets to look strong, manly, and forceful. And some of their partisans do seem to think like that. Like the guy who showed up on the comments to this post, who spoke in tones of outraged dudgeon about how weak the Democrats would be in the War on Terror:

Even if Iraq were the wrong place to hit, (I think it was exactly the RIGHT place to attack, I've listed my reasons here) that's OK with me, at least we are fighting. We'll just have to try hitting a few other vile terror-supporting scumbag tyrannies, and see how that works. I value Bush for the same reason Lincoln valued Grant; he's willing to keep fighting until the enemy is destroyed.

And I despise you so-called Democrats because you always have a thousand twisty arguments that ALWAYS add up to "it's wrong for the United States of America to fight for its freedom and safety, and to crush our enemies into the dust.

One might point out in response that the folks we're crushing in places like Falluja were not our enemies before the war, and had nothing to do with international terrorism, whereas they are now at least a pool of eager potential recruits. And that as to governments, our "anti-terror" efforts might be better directed at vile scumbag tyrants like Qaddafi and the Saudi ruling family, who have been directly implicated in terrorism against Western targets (though you wouldn't know it by Dubya's cordial diplomatic relations with them) -- instead of Saddam Hussein, a vile scumbag tyrant to be sure, but one who was hanging on by his fingernails before the war, and had too much trouble within his own borders to go looking for more elsewhere. But that's just like a liberal. No one wants to hear about those kinds of nuances. Not these guys, at any rate.

And to appeal to these guys, Dubya's handlers are perpetually putting him in situations where he gets to look tough and manly -- most famously, the "Mission Accomplished" photo-op. But as Paul Waldman points out, situations where he might actually have to stand up for himself are a different thing altogether:

  • When the September 11 commission wanted to question the President, he ran like a little girl who just saw a spider. First, he said he wouldn't testify. Then he said he'd talk to them, but not under oath, and only for an hour. Finally he agreed, but only so long as no one recorded the session, and Dick Cheney came along to bail him out if things got uncomfortable. ...
  • Bush has held only twelve solo press conferences in his presidency, fewer than any other modern president, and you can rest assured there won't be another one between now and November. A real man would take questions from the press, even if some of them are going to be confrontational.
  • At his last disastrous press conference, Bush couldn't bring himself to admit to a single mistake he had made in office. Real men admit it when they're wrong.
  • No undecided voters - let alone Democrats - are allowed into Bush campaign events, lest the farcical "Ask the President" events include a question that is not accompanied by fulsome praise of Bush's greatness. A real man would have the guts to encounter voters who don't already love him.

Now, a whole lot of liberals tend to think that wanting tough leaders is just dumb, and beneath us. But if you look at Dubya's record, you can start to see a certain amount of wisdom to it. Let's take this spring's abortive fight in Falluja. In that case, American forces, acting (so far as anyone can tell) on direct orders from the White House, decreed a major attack on a city, even though the commander on the scene, Marine Lt. General Michael Conway, thought that was a mistake. And it's not because Marines are sensitive wimps; when the commanders saw that Falluja was fighting back, and ordered his force back out, he thought that was an even bigger mistake. But it's the same pattern we see in domestic politics: striking a pose, and then running and hiding when it looks like it might be a little hard to follow through.

And then there's North Korea, where Dubya began by decreeing Clinton's policy of hard-headed negotiation to be too accomodating, and that he was going to be tough. The toughness proved to be nothing more than tough talk -- and we're now back to more or less the Clinton policy, except that the Koreans now almost certainly have a few nukes.

And this is what he's like even in private. His interviews reveal that that's how he runs the administration as well, in as much as he does -- silencing or firing anyone with an argument against his policies, so he doesn't have to face down their arguments. So he keeps the toadies who tell him what he wants to hear, and fires the ones who tell the truth -- Shinseki, who told the truth about how many troops we'd need; Larry Lindsey, who told the truth about how much money. Because George W. Bush just isn't tough enough to handle the truth.

So, wanting leaders to be tough isn't an entirely irrational way for voters to behave.

Now, what does this mean for the election?

First off, if I'm right about this, then Kerry's stemwinder speech on Iraq yesterday, defending his vote on Iraq, attacking Dubya's record, and laying out his own plan, is about bloody time. If he won't stand up for himself, a lot of voters must be thinking, how the heck is he going to stand up for the country?

(The defense of the vote is particularly long overdue. He's reminding people that he trusted Dubya's personal assurances that a war would only be fought with international backing, to counter incontrovertible evidence of WMD, only to see those promises broken. Which was a perfectly reasonable policy, except that, as I said at the time, and as Kerry has discovered since, Dubya cannot be trusted to keep his word).

More importantly, though, Kerry needs to talk up his life experience, because it proves, on a personal level, that he is tough. In a way, he's the opposite of Dubya -- someone who has taken tough stands and a great deal of heat, but somehow gets portrayed in public as a milquetoast. How much have you heard about his first job out of law school -- as a hardcore D.A., who expanded the prosecutors office, and took down one of the state's most notorious gangsters? Then in the Senate, he faced down the both Reagan administration and senior members of his own party (Clark Clifford, Claiborne Pell) to expose the Bank of Credit and Commerce International as the financial institution of choice for drug runners and terrorists worldwide. (The Bush clan involved themselves in this affair in a somewhat different way; Harken energy, with Dubya as a director, took their money). Kerry surrogates: more of this, please.

Lastly, I hear there are long-time Democratic Party operatives on the air saying that Kerry is screwing up by not appearing "likable" enough. They're saying that sort of thing in September in a public forum, which is already enough to make you doubt their competence at winning elections. But there's more: "likable" is almost the opposite of "tough".

One final note: it's common Republican cant these days is to tell Dubya's critics how they should just shut up and support the troops. (I'd like to see them say it to General Conway). It may help to remind them that Republicans were remarkably shrill in condemning Franklin Roosevelt's preparation for World War II, and that FDR won that election not by shrinking in fear from his domestic critics (imagine facing down Hitler and Tojo after that!), or questioning their patriotism, but by answering their charges directly in the devastatingly derisive "Little Dog Fala" speech. If Dubya can't take the heat, he should get out of the White House.

One last note, to any Bush partisans reading this: why no, it does not take courage to order troops into battle -- not if you're going to suppress photos of the coffins, underreport the count of the wounded, and hustle their grieving mothers out of your campaign events, all so that you can pretend that nothing bad that you might be responsible for is actually happening.

Waldman piece via Michael Froomkin.

Monday, September 20, 2004

A little news from Boston: Hubba Hubba, in Cambridge's Central Square, had a sign in the window last week proudly saying that it's locally owned, and so deserves your business. That's as opposed to all those cruddy national fetish shop chains, with their badly cut black leather and cheap plastic handcuffs...
A lot of people are saying horrible things about the Israeli government -- that it breaks its commitments and that its word is no good. Some of this, surely, is just disguised anti-Semitism. Here's one guy, for instance, who says that the Israeli government has abandoned the "road map" peace plan that it pledged last year to respect, and that even if Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon plans to pull settlers out of the Gaza strip, Israel "will stay in the territories that remain" -- that is, the West Bank, which Israel would have to cede in order to create any kind of a viable state for the Palestinians.

Who is saying these horrible things? Ariel Sharon.

via Juan Cole.